A hardy perennial

They say what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. That's certainly true of the dandelions in my garden. They have survived every physical, biological and chemical attack I've been able to subject them to. It's a pity Rose's sunflowers weren't as resilient. Maybe then she wouldn't be wandering round the playing field refusing to come in to class.

Spring has sprung with a vengeance. One moment I was lazily contemplating the lawn's first cut of the year, the next I was watering baskets, trimming hedges and defoliating the driveway. And if that's not enough, my children are doing a project called Living and Growing.

I prefer computer-based investigations. Emotionally speaking, the safest way to test what a plant needs to grow is to use a virtual seed, sown in a virtual pot and watered with a virtual watering can. That way death is less permanent and there's no potting compost to upset the cleaner.

Real-world plants are too temperamental. Weeds thrive in spite of every attempt to eliminate them, while prize blooms curl up and die the moment they feel a bit ignored. Perhaps there's a lesson to be learned from this, that we should nurture a bit less and occasionally leave nature to its own devices.

There is no doubt that the survival of our class sunflowers was compromised when the children lavished too much love and attention on them. After six weeks, only a quarter of the seeds we had sown appeared to have a fighting chance of making it into a child's back garden. And of all the students, Rose was the most attentive to her plants - which is ironic, really, because all the evidence suggests that no one lavishes much love on her.

In plant terms Rose is a dwarf variety, uncultivated, unkempt and thorny in appearance; a hardy perennial that will survive harsh conditions to come back time after time. Unlike many of our more traditional species, Rose only flowers for short periods and it's a while since that last happened.

"I'm just checking them," she insisted as she poked the soil with a pencil looking for signs of germination. "I need to make sure they don't die," she protested when subjecting those that did germinate to another torrential downpour.

Sadly none of Rose's sunflowers managed to survive her unique brand of tough love. Out of the four seeds she started with, only two managed to germinate. One of these inexplicably lost the will to live, while the other died from the plant equivalent of strangulation. I did try to persuade her not to tie it too tightly to the support but she was having none of it.

After blaming me, the school, Mother Nature and the world for her horticultural failings, Rose ran out on to the playing field.

She's there now, kicking the heads off dandelions. I sigh and leave her to it. She'll come back when she's ready; she always does.

Steve Eddison teaches at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield

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